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Last class of Academy of Military Science commissioned at McGhee Tyson Air Base

MARYVILLE, Tenn. -- The truest blue in sight Friday at the McGhee Tyson Air Base parade field wasn't in the sky above. It was on the ground below where 94 freshly minted second lieutenants marched in Air Force uniforms to the beat of drums.

The skies were hidden by gray clouds -- a smoky hue that mirrored the trademark color of the mountains that bear the name Smokies.

The mood was at once joyous and somber. New officers of the Air National Guard will no longer take their oaths to uphold the Constitution of the United States in the shadows of these foothills.
Friday's commissioning was the finale for the Academy of Military Science (AMS) at its birthplace. The academy was nurtured for 38 years at its McGhee Tyson campus, the I.G. Brown Air National Guard Training and Education Center (TEC).

The last of an unbroken string of 14,634 cadets taught and commissioned at the TEC had a screaming send-off. Four F-16 fighters streaked low in formation over the parade grounds.

Most former commandants of the AMS and former commanders of the TEC -- which also includes the Paul H. Lankford Enlisted Professional Military Education Center (the Air Guard's NCO academy at McGhee Tyson) -- were on hand for the occasion.

There were plenty of stars in the audience. Seventeen active or retired generals were on-hand, including Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, director of the Air National Guard, who served as commissioning officer.

But as proved by a standing ovation and several rounds of applause, there was one "rock star" in the room -- Col. (Ret.) Edmund Morrisey.

"The man who started it all," Lt. Col. Ron Daniels, current AMS commandant, said in his introductory remarks.

Morrisey served as TEC commander from 1968-1983 and commandant of AMS from 1971-1972. He was the first commander of the Non-Commissioned Officer Academy established at McGhee Tyson in 1968, and the driving force behind development of the Preparatory Academy that became the Academy of Military Science.

The man who presided at the first officer academy class was present for McGhee Tyson's last, Class O-2009-4. In a video shown during the ceremony, Morrisey characterized the forward attitude of AMS.

"To my knowledge, we were the first officer candidate program to have the same curriculum for both men and women. And there we had a female officer with a whole male flight, which was just unheard of in this day and age," Morrisey said.

"We experimented. And if it didn't work, we threw it out. If it was what we wanted, we kept it and we refined it. Today we're constantly looking at how can we improve what we do."

The latest caretaker of that legacy is Col. Richard Howard, commander of the TEC. In the video, Howard reflected on the heritage of the officer academy.

"The AMS is a remarkable mission and success story," Howard said. "We've been very innovative. That's been one of the amazing things about AMS. ... In teaching the basic tenants of officership as taught at all the other schools, we've been able to implement some programs here that have benefitted not only our AMS classes, but those of the total forces that have been adapted to the other commissioning programs." 

The speaker for the last class, selected by the student wing, was Officer Candidate Wayne Doyle, of the 116th Air Control Squadron, Oregon.

"Our leaders and our nation are eager to see where we can lead the next generation of airmen. Our cheer, although rarely used, said that 'thousands before came through this door and we saved the best for last.' It's an easy thing to say, but we have proved it through academic excellence, vigilance and teamwork," Doyle said.

"The question is, what next? Ask yourselves, officer candidates, are you more eager to see McGhee Tyson in your rearview mirror or to see the path that lies ahead for you?"

The same question faces AMS: What lies ahead as the academy pulls up stakes at McGhee Tyson and relocates in July to Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama? There the AMS will establish a campus at the home of the Air Force's Officer Training School and its ROTC.

The growing reliance on citizen soldiers has convinced the Air Force to consolidate its officer training operations.

Given the acknowledged success of AMS at the I.G. Brown Air National Guard Training and Education Center, the change in direction leaves some Air Guard veterans wondering about the "path that lies ahead."

Is what's good for the Air Force good for the Air Guard?

As one Guard officer -- an interested witness to the ceremonial good-bye by AMS -- said Friday: "Time will tell."